Se7en is a very impressive movie, but it's hardly much fun. I'm afraid I prefer to watch The Bone Collector, which has two likeable lead characters and a developing relationship between them that I find charming. On the other hand, Se7en is so single-mindedly grim and sordid that I end up disconnecting from it. The killings are magnificently horrible, but shock value can only take you so far.
Now I come to think about it, Se7en might even be deliberately trying to alienate its audience. Our introduction to the two leads is far from endearing. Brad Pitt is a cocky gung-ho young whippersnapper who thinks he's seen it all, while Morgan Freeman (despite being thoughtful and erudite) is uncooperative and pretty damn rude, in his own soft-spoken way. He doesn't have Brad Pitt's anger, but instead an overwhelming weariness. Oh, and he's going to retire in a week's time. I suppose it's a compliment to Se7en that this well-worn plot element never comes across as the usual rehashed nonsense from every single detective movie ever.
The dialogue is often hard to follow, being either mumbled or thrown away. In a film this carefully crafted, this must be deliberate. There's always distance between the audience and the characters; the scenes aren't told from anyone's viewpoint, but merely observed with dispassionate coldness. Even beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow isn't allowed to become an audience empathy figure by the dead-eyed camera. It's remarkable how often we aren't allowed to glimpse people's faces, instead just seeing an anonymous mass of humanity.
You see, Se7en's thesis is that the city is Hell. It's a sordid place of filth, squalor and casual murder as a background detail. Whenever anyone goes outside, rain batters them. Brad and Gwyneth live in an apartment that shakes whenever the trains go past. Even the dialogue emphasises this, with Morgan Freeman recounting a particularly chilling piece of advice regarding rape victims. Scratch the surface of Se7en and you'll find a film steeped in religion; the killer is a man of God, preaching an interactive sermon about the Se7en deadly sins. He looks like a Buddhist priest. Listen to what the script is saying and you'll find quite a bit of interest here. The good versus evil debate is given plenty of screen time, with the killer's point of view being defended so convincingly that you might start to wonder whether he's not right. It fits with Se7en's thesis. You're meant to think about it.
Of course no movie ever made it big on the back of quasi-theological discussions. Se7en has two qualities that set it apart from the rest of the serial killing crowd: (a) some truly horrific murder scenes, and (b) a plot! Se7en isn't trying to connect with you emotionally, so instead it grabs you by the gag reflex. Wow, that's gross! Mr Sloth might be the unluckiest man in any movie ever. And the plot is damn clever, with genuine surprises that have meaning for the characters. That's particularly welcome in a sub-genre that usually gives us ninety minutes of plodding detection followed by a climax of contrived jeopardy. The first time you watch this film, I swear you'll never see some of this coming.
Oh, and apparently New Line executives originally balked at the film's ending but Brad Pitt refused to make the film if the ending were changed. He gives a good performance too, playing opposite a fine thespian in Morgan Freeman and losing nothing in the comparison. Hats off to the guy.
I admire Se7en and think it's very impressive. I just don't much enjoy watching it. The DVD has been sitting unwatched on my shelves for months and I only viewed it because I'm giving it away tomorrow.